One of football's most storied coaches, Pittsburgh's Chuck Noll, announced his retirement yesterday after a career that included four Super Bowl victories. His teams had won less lately, going 51-60 since last appearing in the AFC title game in 1984.
Noll, who coached the Steelers since 1969 and is the only coach to win four Super Bowls, told reporters at a news conference in Pittsburgh: "It's much easier coming in than going out. The emotions and attachments that build up over 23 years are tough to sever." The Steelers finished 7-9 this season, missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
In a telephone interview, Steelers owner Dan Rooney said he has not yet thought about a replacement. When asked about former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells, a potential coaching candidate for Green Bay and Tampa Bay, Rooney said: "I could sit here and say it's one of those things where we would look at anybody and everybody, but I'm not really thinking about that. This is Chuck's day, and I want it to be Chuck's day.
"But I think there are good people out there, and we're going to find a good man. We're not looking for a savior. But right now we have nobody in mind."
One of the candidates might be Joe Greene, the current defensive line coach and Hall of Fame defensive tackle from the famed "Steel Curtain" defense of the 1970s.
Rooney, who said there was no timetable to find a coach, explained that Noll's decision came as "an abrupt thing." Noll apparently notified Rooney yesterday morning, saying he came to his decision "not easily."
"I can't really say his decision was a total surprise," said Rooney. "I told him we really wanted him to be a part of this organization. We want him to give advice and counsel. We don't use the word consultant because he's much more important than that."
Noll was one of the game's innovators, among the first to disguise defensive formations. He also made the tricky switch from a running offense to a passing offense in the two seasons between each of the Steelers' Super Bowls (1975-76 and 1979-80).
But since winning Super Bowl XIV following the 1979 season, the Steelers have made only four playoff appearances, winning just two games.
Noll became the sixth coaching casualty in a rocky season that could see as many as nine coaches either resign or be fired. Noll joins Jerry Burns of Minnesota and John Robinson of the Los Angeles Rams, both of whom retired. Lindy Infante of Green Bay, Dan Henning of San Diego and Sam Wyche of Cincinnati were fired (Wyche says he was fired; the Bengals say Wyche resigned). Other coaches who could be in jeopardy are Seattle's Chuck Knox, Indianapolis's Rick Venturi and Richard Williamson of Tampa Bay.
Speculation on the top choice to replace Henning has been Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Ross, and yesterday Chargers General Manager Bobby Beathard confirmed that, according to the Associated Press.
While Parcells has met twice with Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse and could end up with the Bucs or Packers, sources close to Parcells said yesterday the two-time Super Bowl winner may be speaking to teams in an attempt to "get more money from NBC," where he is currently a studio analyst. Williamson met with Culverhouse yesterday and they were scheduled to meet again today.
According to league sources, Parcells has been offered a five-year, $7 million contract with the Buccaneers, and the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that most of the key components of a long-term deal have been negotiated. However, other sources say Parcells ultimately would like to stay in television for health reasons, but one source said the "money might be too tempting for him to resist." NBC officials maintain Parcells will stay in TV.
Yesterday, the Packers said they couldn't match the Tampa Bay offer, adding Parcells has not been their only interest.
Meanwhile, many in football were saddened by Noll's retirement. "I was sad and surprised to hear about Chuck's resignation," Shula said in a statement. "I've always felt that he has given so much of himself to the game, and the game has gotten better because of his contribution."
Noll's tenure tied former New York Giants coach Steve Owen as the third-longest with one team in NFL history. Former Green Bay coach Curly Lambeau and former Dallas coach Tom Landry each coached 29 seasons.
He ranks fifth all-time with 209 victories, trailing former Chicago Bears coach George Halas (325), Shula (306), Landry (270) and Lambeau (229).
Noll, who will turn 60 on Jan. 5, has spent 39 seasons in pro football, beginning as a 21st-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns in 1953. His career coaching record -- including playoffs -- is 209-156-1.